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Love Me Not
Year: 2006


DVD (Korea)
Region 3
16X9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS
Removable English and Korean subtitles
Alternate ending, Making-of, Featurettes, etc.

Director: Lee Cheol-Ha
Cast: Kim Joo-Hyuk, Moon Geun-Young
The Skinny: Cynical and filled with unlikeable characters, Love Me Not is an interesting deconstruction of the melodrama, but also gets knee-deep in its clichés. It looks beautiful, but it's also hollow and laden with plot holes.

Kevin Ma:

Korea gets its front-runner for the most cynical melodrama of the year with Love Me Not, a beautifully made but emotionally hollow film about a con artist who kind of grows a heart. After a star performance as one of the two sisters in A Tale of Two Sisters, talented young actress Moon Geun-Young takes on her most mature role yet as Min, a blind girl who is forced to be the head of her rich family after the death of her father. Cue Julian (drama star Kim Joo-Hyuk, who was also in the romantic comedy Singles), a recently-released con artist who makes his fortune by swindling rich women. He gets out of prison to find that one of his underlings has just died in a car accident. Not only that, Julian also owes about two-and-a-half million dollars (3 billion won, to be exact) to a mean character with an enormous mustache and the power to show up just about anywhere.

Lucky for Julian, his deceased underling just happens to be Min's long-lost brother, and when the time comes to collect the inheritance, Julian decides to pretend to be Min's brother. He first uses his lady charm to try and soften Min's hard exterior (and it's quite hard, judging by Min's existential voice-over from the beginning), and when all else fails, he saves her life from an approaching train. But Julian also has something more sinister in mind: he plans to kill Min to get sole inheritance, which isn't quite a solid plan, considering that Min's the only one who believes Julian might be who he's pretending to be. More convincing is Mr. Mustache, who wouldn't mind killing Julian in place of his debt if he doesn't pay up in a month.

For a melodrama to work and its emotions resonate, likeable characters must be crafted. But Love Me Not is a very cynical film - its characters are mean and rarely likeable, and the hopes for some kind of happy ending are crushed by the film's third-act twist. Even at the 30-minute mark, the audience still struggles to find a character to connect with, as Julian is an obvious choice for the one to hate, and Min is really just an old miser in the body of a cute 19-year-old Korean girl. This also means that unlike most con artist films, there's no fun at all in the con. Julian deserves to be hated, and he's not really all that clever despite being admired by all of Seoul's shadiest. Perhaps the filmmakers should be given credit for not glorifying the ugly world of con artists, but it still attempts to make its protagonists sympathetic characters. Even when the protagonists finally decide to play nice and be friendly to each other, it's hard to forget what happened before: that Min is a bit of an idiot for falling for the con, Julian still intended to kill a blind girl, and everyone else are still villains to different degrees.

However, writer/director Lee Cheol-Ha probably knows this, and he thankfully tones down the usual melodrama for a subdued climax. Expecting a big climax where Julian's scam is revealed, and Min breaks down to the tune of a dramatic score fueled by lots of violins? Not happening. While the first act drags slightly, Lee keeps the twists coming, and keeps the film going at a decent pace without stopping for those big emotional moments. Much of the emotions are muted all the way to the end, though it only leads to an ending that's too abstract for its own good. Don't expect Lee to be making an anti-melodrama here, though; Love Me Not is still packed with those clichés that everyone loves. It's just not as painful this time around.

Enormous praise, meanwhile, needs to go to the cinematography by Gang Chang Bae. The film is consistently gray (a most appropriate palate, I'd say, given the mood throughout), but Lee and Gang frame the shots wonderfully to show their stars at their most beautiful. The use of focus is also reminiscent of Asian television ads with the slick visuals and amazing clarity. It's a far-fetched call, but Love Me Not may be the most beautifully shot Korean film I've seen from 2006. Sadly, the pretty visuals also emphasize the hollowness and the lack of humanity in most of the film. Love Me Not may be really pretty to look at, but there's not much beneath its surface.

What about the amazing maturity that Moon Geun-Young is supposed to show? Moon does seem to have come a long way from the "not crazy" sister role from A Tale of Two Sisters, but showing maturity doesn't mean acting like a spoiled brat. Perhaps it'ss again the fault of the script, but when even a blind orphaned girl can't garner much sympathy by the second act, toning down the mean streak would be a good option. Meanwhile, the 34-year-old Kim Joo-Hyuk fares slightly better in his performance as pseudo-villain Julian, but he's visibly a few years too old to be Moon Geun Young's older brother. Or perhaps I just found another plot hole.

As far as melodrama goes, Love Me Not should be applauded for not following a strict formula of clichés, even though it doesn't stray too far from it. On the other hand, Love Me Not is not much of a con movie because it lacks the fun and cleverness in the central con. As an unintentional comedy, Love Me Not has quite a few of those strange moments where characters pop up as if they inherited some kind of Star Trek beaming technology. Thankfully, both the stars and the visuals are pretty to look at, the cynics will love that the emotions are subdued, and I was just glad that the whole thing didn't collapse at the third act point. (Kevin Ma 2007)

 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen